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Press Release · November 17, 2008

Preparing for the Inevitable: State Global Warming Strategy Needs To Plan for Climate Change

SAN FRANCISCO, California, November 17, 2008 — Some California institutions, such as water agencies and electrical utilities, are already preparing for the inevitable effects of climate change. But others have yet to prepare effectively for the challenges of a warmer California, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Even if the state’s ambitious efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are successful, California needs an integrated policy to prepare for climate changes that will affect the economy, the environment, and the daily lives of residents, the report recommends.

PPIC also released a second report, a survey of California city and county governments that finds roughly three-quarters of those surveyed are involved in activities related to climate change. This survey was conducted in association with the Institute for Local Government.

The first report, Preparing California for a Changing Climate, explores California’s readiness for the increasing storm surges, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and other inevitable effects of global warming. The report concludes that some institutions have been more responsive than others. For instance, water agencies and electrical utilities, which are obligated to provide direct services to the public, are actively trying to increase their readiness. In addition, the Coastal Commission and Bay Conservation and Development Commission are currently addressing the challenges of sea level rise. But much remains to be done in other areas – including flood management, ecosystem conservation, public health, and air quality planning.

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can support preparation for climate change, but sometimes emissions reduction goals and climate change preparation efforts conflict. For example, planting shade trees can lower home cooling needs and reduce emissions, but may also require more water. That’s why these issues need to be considered in tandem.

The report, which was funded in part by The Nature Conservancy, Next 10, and Pacific Gas and Electric Company, identifies six actions the state should take to prepare for climate change:

  • Improve the basic science. The state needs better, more precise forecasts of changes in air and water temperatures, sea level rise, and storm surges.
  • Help frontline actors to interpret the science. For example, guidelines from the state about planning for sea level rise can help local agencies ensure that new buildings and construction are less vulnerable to coastal flooding.
  • Determine where early actions are needed. In some areas, a failure to act now will result in greater costs or fewer options in the future. Planning now for future habitat needs, for example, can help protect native species against extinction.
  • Refine existing procedures and tools. Even where strategies exist, it will be important to consider the effects of climate change. State and local agencies need to refine local heat emergency plans, for example, so that the state is able to plan for more frequent and extreme heat waves.
  • Strengthen the incentives for coordinated actions. Cooperation among agencies, levels of government, and sectors is necessary. For example, water supply and flood control are managed separately but both would benefit from coordinated action in response to changes in the Sierra snowpack.
  • Make legal and regulatory adjustments to facilitate adaptation. The legal framework in which agencies operate may also need to change. State, and perhaps federal, action would be required, for example, to authorize local air quality districts to incorporate climate change into their plans and to give them incentives to do so.

“California is already a leader in efforts to reduce the effects of global warming,” says PPIC research fellow Louise Bedsworth, who co-authored the report with Ellen Hanak, PPIC director of research and senior fellow. “We now have the opportunity to be a leader in developing approaches to limit the harm we are unable to prevent.”

What about local responses to climate change? The second study, Climate Policy at the Local Level, finds that city and county government activities on climate change are particularly prevalent in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento Metro Area, where regional and countywide initiatives have supported such actions. Across the state, these efforts are generally more common in communities with larger populations, higher household incomes, or fewer Republican voters.

“Partnerships with business groups, nonprofits, utilities, and regional agencies have been crucial to many of the successful programs to reduce emissions,” says Hanak, who co-authored the report with a team of PPIC researchers. “Local government action is much lower in the area of adapting to a changing climate.”

For complete details on the findings and conclusions of each report, please visit


The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.